Smithsonian Sells First Refusal Rights to Showtime

Most archives don’t turn a profit, and many of them are looking for deals with commercial firms that can allow them to keep the lights on, and to serve some footage. Unfortunately, non-profits are often at a disadvantage in their negotiations with for profit firms.

The Smithsonian’s new agreement with Showtime is a case in point. From the New York Times:

Under the agreement, the joint venture has the right of first refusal to commercial documentaries that rely heavily on Smithsonian collections or staff. Those works would first have to be offered to Smithsonian on Demand, the cable channel that is expected to be the venture’s first programming service.

A Smithsonian official who is managing the institution’s content and production assistance for the venture said yesterday that while the new arrangement did limit the ability of commercial filmmakers to sell some projects elsewhere, it ultimately would affect a small number of the works that draw on the museum’s resources.

“It’s not our obligation to help independent filmmakers sell their wares to commercial broadcast and cable networks,” said the official, Jeanny Kim, a vice president for media services for Smithsonian Business Ventures.

“What it boiled down to is that we don’t have the financial resources, the expertise or the production capabilities,” she added, to continue to provide extensive access to materials but not to reap any financial benefit from the result.

It’s been obvious for a long time now that archivists need to work together to develop a set of standards and guidelines for effective negotiations with commercial firms. Development of that guide needs to be funded by a non-commercial entity — anyone out there listening?

One thought on “Smithsonian Sells First Refusal Rights to Showtime”

  1. This deal is not about money. It puts in place a mechanism for censorship and revisionist history. The arrogant and out of touch with realiy language of Smithsonian bureaucrats, plus the unrealistic THIRTY YEAR term (five years is considered excessive in the volatile media industry), not to mention the very limited home market for the shows make it clear there is a hidden agenda lurking somewhere.

    If these pay per view shows are intended for schools, and other filmakers and distributors are prevented from using the resources, our children will have a very slanted view of their world.

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